After almost a month of conflict, students were returning to classrooms in most of the city this week but can we now say to ourselves: end of story?
Media coverage and analysis were largely dedicated to the protest of a minority and its target of City Hall’s reform but more questions should be asked about the silent majority who allowed the paralysis to last so long, because this shows that the educational crisis runs far deeper than this dispute.
The catalyst of abruptly presented reforms and the electoral context gave the protest a dimension which it would never otherwise have enjoyed but it did not rise above being a confused response to confused proposals – why then did it gain the consent of the student majority without a political agenda or any real awareness of the reforms?
This failure to rally in defence of the educational system speaks volumes about how far it has fallen. What value do classes have when given by teachers who behave more like trade unionists and less like educators every year, responding to a curriculum with roots as much in the 19th as the 21st century? And even accepting teacher pay grievances (which have totally displaced scholastic standards as the centre of the educational debate), when comparing their meagre salaries to the earnings of soccer or pop stars, what message does this give about the rewards system of modern society and how does it remain possible to see education as the path of upward mobility as the Mi hijo el dotor immigrant generations did on their time? Without even going into all the challenges of technology when it has been calculated that only 0.003 percent of the current stock of information comes from previous centuries?
Obviously a system urgently needing change but that was precisely the aim of City Hall’s reforms – what were the merits of this reform and how much did it deserve this protest?
Any assessment of these “Secondary School of the Future” reforms would benefit from fuller information – we are told that they are the work of 100 experts but not who these experts are and nor do any seem to be stepping forward to explain their ideas more completely.
The reforms are presented as the key to the future by one side and the virtual introduction of child labour by the other but in point of fact none are especially original. Least of all the tutorial system (long enshrined at Oxbridge for far more select student groups), which goes all the way back to the “two on a log” days of Socrates, if not further. Here the problem is not so much conceptual as practical – where on earth does City Hall find the huge army of individual tutors for each and every student?
Yet the main bone of contention has been incorporation of on-the-job training – slave labour to exploit the surplus value of an industrial reserve army according to the most extreme critics. Again nothing new – apprenticeship was a central part of the socio- economic fabric clothing the European immigrant waves of 100-150 years ago with an especially strong German traditon (Otto Krause) and today technical colleges with on-thejob training already account for 13 percent of this city’s student body.
Much more remains to be discussed but the important thing is to discuss it. As the elections draw closer, there is every prospect of a renewed wave of school takeovers and protests but the students would be employing their energies far more wisely if they worked on constructive alternatives to City Hall’s somewhat arrogant and half-baked reforms.